In chapter 5, Paul begins addressing the reports of sexual immorality among the church members at Corinth. Paul tells them in verse 1 that word has reached him of one among them who is engaged in incest with what is presumably his step-mother (Paul would simply have said “his mother” if that were the case). They were in the midst of, and converted to Christianity from, a pagan society that tolerated – even celebrated sexual immorality and idolatry. Yet Paul states that immorality of this nature is “not tolerated even among pagans” (both Greek and Roman cultures condemned incest).
Paul finds it amazing that the church there has problems with people full of pride (verse 2), and that many are boasting (verse 6) about their gifts and their capable teachers, while they tolerate and say nothing about one of their own being involved in such scandalous immorality! Verse 5 simply means that instead of acting as if everything is normal with such a man in their midst, they must distance themselves from him in the proper manner. The key phrase is “so that his spirit may be saved.” By not correcting him and behaving as if he is doing no wrong, the church there is neglecting his very soul (not to mention the fact that the public nature of his sin is known to others outside the congregation, thus harming the church).
Finally, Paul is making the point in verses 9-13 that when he tells them that they must not associate with sexually immoral people, he does not mean those of the world. He is talking about brothers in Christ that are “guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler.” It is not for them to judge outsiders, for if they do not associate with sinners that have not come to Christ, how can they teach the lost?
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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